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Grylls clashes over tax at breakfast

AAP logoAAP 9/11/2016 Greg Roberts

WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls has clashed with business and mining interests at a breakfast function and defended his right to push for a controversial new $5 a tonne mining tax if he holds the balance of power after the March election.

The event's host, Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive Deidre Wilmott, sharply criticised her guest speaker's policy as she introduced him, labelling it "blind" and something that would cost jobs and investment in the state.

Mr Grylls hit back, saying she had "joined the multi-million dollar alarmist campaign" to misrepresent his policy of increasing lease rental paid by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto from 25 cents to $5 a tonne of iron ore.

Despite opposition from both major parties - the Nationals' government alliance partners the Liberals, as well as Labor - Mr Grylls said he could still have a mandate to impose the charge on the miners.

"If the WA Nationals have a position in the West Australian parliament and can sit around the decision-making table, our policy position will be on the decision-making table," he said.

"If our votes are required to form government, our policy position that we've taken to the election will be on the table. They need to be agreed to by our partners in government to be implemented and I've always accepted that."

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has proposed a compromise buyout by Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton of their lease rental payments, in which they would make an upfront payment to terminate it.

Mr Grylls made WA's costly Royalties for Regions policy, which uses mining royalties for spending in rural areas, a condition of him forming government with the Liberals in 2008.

On Wednesday, he quoted former Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh as saying last year the company was still thriving in the face of an iron ore price plunge to $US38 a tonne.

"If the industry was thriving at $US38, I don't know how it is under enormous pressure at the current price of $US67 after a recent strong rally," he said.

He said he had had the difficult task of recently increasing rents for rural teachers in state housing and therefore miners enjoying large returns could "pay a little more" too.

Mr Grylls says the new charge will raise $7.2 billion for government coffers, which was needed because the state was not getting its fair share of GST revenue at the expense of the other states.

He said that would provide funding for the Nationals' other key policy; two years of payroll tax relief for 10,000 out of 17,000 WA small businesses to encourage them to expand in a post-mining boom economy.

He also rejected Mr Barnett's comments last week that WA's economy remained the nation's strongest, saying people were leaving the state to find work.

"I think we're under enormous pressure. ABS data showed WA shed 4300 jobs last month, the 21st consecutive monthly fall in full-time jobs."

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